If you're hiking for multiple days, you may overexert your calf muscles on difficult terrain and have to deal with the pain the next day. When you stop to rest throughout the day and when you're done hiking for the night, you can take a few steps to ease your calf pain and prepare for the next segment of hiking.
Causes of Sore Calves
Sore calves are a common complaint and nuisance to hikers. The pain results from a change in exercise intensity or pace and can also be attributed to exercise on steep terrain. Hikers are often moving uphill, especially when trying to reach a summit, and when hiking for multiple days, most people get much more exercise in those few days than they normally would off the mountain. This drastic increase in the amount of exercise as well as the exercise intensity results in calf muscle soreness following the first hikes. Once the muscles are conditioned for this kind of effort, they don't tend to get as sore.
Drinking During the Hike
You don't want to let your calves get so exhausted from hiking that they start to cramp, which can be incredibly painful. Stretching your calf muscles at various times throughout the hike will certainly help ease muscle tightness, but muscle cramps can't be prevented by stretching alone. Calf cramps are caused by salt depletion and are made worse by dehydration. Take a salty solution with you to drink on every hike. The solution should be made of less than 1/2 teaspoon of salt for 1 liter of water. Drink this solution before hikes to prevent cramps, but if you feel a cramp starting, drink the solution immediately to ease the pain and stop the cramping, advises "Medicine Man" Buck Tilton of Backpacker.com. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to your water bottle every time you refill, he says, and don't be afraid to add a powdered drink mix to the salty water if you can't stand the taste.
Eating During the Hike
The food you eat before and during a hike can have a huge effect on the way your muscles feel during the hike and on whether they cramp up. Eat salty snacks like trail mix before and during the hike to add more salt to your diet and prevent calf cramps. Take high-potassium foods like potatoes, leafy greens, beans, dates and bananas on the hike to be eaten with meals, but also throughout the hike. Potassium and sodium together keep your electrolytes balanced, keep you from retaining too much fluid and may prevent the fatigue that causes calf muscle cramps and soreness.
Preparing for Your Next Hike
Even if you've taken all the proper precautions throughout the hike to keep your calves from cramping, they may still feel sore after a long day on the mountain. To start the recovery process, rest your legs at night between hikes and apply an ice pack to your sore calf muscle for a few segments of 15 to 20 minutes, MayoClinic.com recommends. Elevate your legs to relieve the pain and swelling. If it feels like you've injured your calf muscle and you wake up with extreme soreness, you may need to take a day off the mountain and give your muscles up to 48 hours to heal.
Courtney McCaffrey graduated from the College of Charleston in 2008 with a B.A. in media studies. She has served as an editor for Blooming Twig Books and the MADA Writing Services publishing company. She is now a writer on various outdoor sports such as snowboarding, skiing, surfing and bodysurfing.